Saturday, June 1, 2013

Smallest Winner, Biggest Loser

There's a difference between fitness and sport: sport has winners and losers. Yes, it's noble to set a goal and test yourself, but you could do that alone in the park. You paid $49 to pin on a number and join a crowd. As Jerry Seinfeld said, the New York Marathon is "a man from Kenya, a woman from Norway, and 20,000 losers", and you actually paid money to be one of them. That is no longer about fitness, unless you have 19,000 close friends you like to run with.

All alone at 65kg
The iron sports are segregated into weight classes, so a small meet may give a gold medal to every competitor. A large meet may have 10 golds, silvers, and bronzes, and a Best Lifter trophy that usually goes to a heavyweight or a visiting champion. While I've never actually earned either of these places, my thoughts today are about the silver and bronze.

I have a confession to make: I have a competitive side. I may not have a terribly motivated constitution overall, so this may be more of a selfish streak or a need for approval. My current pursuit in kettlebell sport highlights the conditions that I am middle-aged, a late starter, and teensy. There is virtually nothing I can do about those facts. I've come to know most of the region's competitors around my size, so I can predict weeks in advance whether I'll medal at a meet based on its Facebook page.

Winning for the first time at 70kg
For more than 2 years, I've been alone in the lightest weight class. You can barely imagine what it's like to stand on the platform with no competition and no hope of Best Lifter, year after year. It shouldn't matter, but it does to me. In a meet this Spring, I finally outscored a competitor in my own weight class and 3 heavier athletes lifting the same bells. That was the first time I've had direct competition, and oddly the first time I haven't felt like my certificate read "Participant". I'm sorry for how shallow that sounds, but it's honest.

There is this certain challenge to one's self-esteem when you stand out for your novelty instead of your achievement. I've lifted the same bells as much heavier guys and made ranking scores multiple times. But I never beat anyone fair and square, never won Best Lifter, and never lifted the heaviest bells. I am honored to have earned some respect, but even respect can stick in your throat.

My August meet recently changed affiliations to an organization that uses 10kg-wide weight classes instead of 5kg-wide, and requires me to move up to 24kg bells. I did not see this coming. A local Candidate for Master of Sport has been roped into my weight class, probably along with several other larger guys. This wider class will likely contest both silver and bronze. (We couldn't beat Dunn with a tranquilizer gun and a head start.) I have to move up to 24kg bells to compete at all, so there's a deadline on that open-ended goal I've been chasing for over a year. My Summer suddenly seems less mundane, and this upcoming meet will probably be the best thing that's happened to my training in years.

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